The Microwave: Miso Soup

Sunday June 24, 2012

miso mosaic--the lighter the color, the milder the flavor/the darker, the more assertive the flavor/photo courtesy of

Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is a staple, along with soy sauce and tofu, in Japanese cuisine. It is salty in nature and thick like nut butter. It is made from soaked soybeans, grains, sea salt, spring water, and a fermentation starter called a koji, sort of a mold like used in making cheese. The miso mash is fermented for 1 week to 12 months in wooden barrels, letting the natural enzymes develop the flavor and outstanding nutritional value.

There are basically three types: white (shiromiso), red (mugimiso), and mame (mamemiso), all which are regional specialties depending on the grain grown in the local area. White miso is best suited to the American palate; it is mild and slightly sweet, made from soybeans and malted rice. It is good with fish and for delicate soups. Red miso is stronger and made from soybeans and malted barley. One of the best in this middle category is brown miso (akamiso), made from rice or barley and good with red meats and in mixed vegetable soups. Mame is quite strong and made from all soybeans; its flavor is likened to chocolate and it is very firm.

Miso is stirred into hot liquids and is never boiled to preserve the health-giving properties. It is used in soups, stews, marinades, and salad dressings. Soups are often made with a mixture of different misos to taste. Once available only in Asian markets, miso is now often available in well stocked supermarkets and natural foods stores, often refrigerated in plastic tubs. The container will state the type of miso and the salt content, which varies with each type. If you buy unrefrigerated plastic bags, transfer to a covered container. Miso is best used within a month for optimum flavor and nutrition.

miso soup fully loaded/photo courtesy cooking 101

Morning Cup of Miso

Miso is a traditional Japanese food. It is made by fermenting soybeans, rice, or barley with salt and the fungus kōjikin resulting in a thick paste rich with health-giving live enzymes. It is most familiar in the soup that is the start to traditional Japanese meals. Miso, when dissolved in hot water, makes a flavorful, nutritious, and satisfying drink in lieu of tea and coffee.

essential miso soup

Rice and miso are usual components of a Japanese breakfast. My friend Lynn remembers the breakfast buffet at the beautiful Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. The Japanese section was set up with miso, green salad, tomatoes, fresh and pickled veggies! There are a wide variety of misos, from very thick and strong to drippy and sweet. The easiest types of miso to find are mild white miso (shiro) and a bit stronger red miso (aka-the flavor most associated with Japanese restaurant miso soups), both delicious.

tofu and greens

While Japanese miso soup uses dried bonito flakes reconstituted with water to make dashi as the other building block ingredient to miso soup, homemade miso soup usually skips this step. So you can simply stir a tablespoon of miso into some hot water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth. I love my miso soup for breakfast, or any time during the day. You can make it as simple or complex as you have time for. You can steam a cup of vegetables or add a few tablespoons of leftovers to your miso.


Cookware: 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup or glass or ceramic batter bowl

Microwave Wattage: 1,100 to 1,300

Cook Time: About 3 minutes

Standing Time: None

Serves 2


  • 4 cups pure water
  • 8-to 12-ounces firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons miso paste, to taste
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • A small handful of cilantro
  • Optional mix and match additions:
  • A handful of watercress leaves or baby spinach, well washed and stems trimmed
  • Lightly steamed vegetables: bok choy, napa cabbage, thinly sliced carrots, celery, mushrooms
  • Tofu shirataki noodles
  • Leftover cooked rice, pasta, or soba


1. Place the water in the 2-quart measuring cup. Add the tofu and green onion. Microcook on HIGH, uncovered, for 3 minutes, to bring to a high simmer. You want the water to be steaming.

2. Pour 1/2 cup of the hot water into a small bowl. Mash and whisk in the miso paste; it will smooth and thin out. Pour this back into the measuring cup, stirring as you pour it in. Taste, and then add more (the same way) a bit at a time until it is to your liking. Add a squeeze of the lemon juice. If you reheat the miso, do not boil.

3. Place the cilantro in a serving bowl along with any other greens and pour over the hot miso and tofu soup. If you use less greens, you can drink your miso soup from an oversized mug. Drink while nice and hot.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2010, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2012

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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